It’s safe to say residents of Croydon, New Hampshire, a town of fewer than 800 people, were not expecting its board’s decision to disband its one-man police department to make headlines across the country. But that’s exactly what happened thanks in large part to the reaction of now-former Police Chief Richard Lee, who took being stripped of his duties a bit too literally.
After the town’s three-person board of selectmen voted in favor of replacing Lee’s services with full coverage from the New Hampshire State Police, the board asked Lee to turn in his cruiser keys, badge and uniform — and he wasted little time doing the latter.
“I gave them my uniform shirt, my turtleneck and my ballistic vest,” he told CBS Boston. “I then sat down in the chair, took off my pants, put my boots back on and walked out the door.”
When asked by a board member what he was doing, Lee responded, “You said immediately, this is immediately.” The ousted chief then proceeded to walk nearly a mile in below-freezing temperatures — in a snowstorm, no less — before his wife tracked him down and drove him the rest of the way home.
“I had no other means of transportation — as the cruiser is a take-home vehicle — and I had no spare clothes in the office, so I did as ordered,” he told the New Hampshire Union Leader.
The bizarre incident left many in attendance trying to comprehend what had just happened. “Richard’s not a perfect person, no human being is,” says local resident Heather Sampson. “But what kind of town lets their chief of police walk out in a snowstorm in his underwear?” her husband, Rick, adds.
Believe it or not, this wasn’t the first time Lee’s position had been the topic of debate. Two board members and the board’s administrative assistant resigned last year over the issue of whether to abolish Lee’s position. In 2018, voters rejected a proposal from Lee to increase his $30,500 salary by 43% and instead chose to pass a 2% cost-of-living raise.
Although Lee served as the town’s prosecutor and only officer for two decades, the decision to scrap his position was ultimately an economic one, according to select board chair Russell Edwards. “We didn’t feel like we were getting the value of our money,” he says. Maybe not, but they sure got their money’s worth as Lee departed.
As seen in the April 2020 issue of American Police Beat magazine.
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